Red Bull the Drink that’s a TV Channel

15 10 2012

When Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the surface of the moon in July 1969, an estimated 500 million people worldwide watched the event.  When Felix Baumgartner in a suit reminiscent of those worn by the Apollo astronauts, leapt from his Zenith capsule 24 miles above the Earth’s surface the audience was a mere 8 million. The difference was no broadcast channel was carrying the live footage.

Red Bull’s Stratos Channel on YouTube beat the previous record for a live YouTube broadcast by seven and a half million.  The Channel has also racked up an astonishing 367 million views in total with three quarters of a million subscribers which should serve it well with YouTube’s latest search algorithm.

The event was significant because Baumgartner broke records for the highest jump and became the first man to break the sound barrier, but the way it was viewed was significant too.  It has been true for years that you don’t need to be a broadcaster to broadcast, but this was a defining moment in demonstrating that event TV doesn’t need a conventional TV channel.   Red Bull isn’t just the sponsor it’s the media owner and that’s a much more powerful position to be in.   You can see the highlights in this 90 second round-up – courtesy of Red Bull.

Why’s X Factor’s Amelia Lily on

6 12 2011

When Amelia Lily returned to X-Factor a strange thing occurred.  News of her selection to replace the disgraced Frankie Cocozza appeared on the STV website  before the public vote had ended.  The X Factor PR machine claimed that site had prepared four stories to cover each of the contenders being voted back in by the public – but I looked at the time and I could only find Amelia’s.  No-one on twitter appeared to find the others at first either.

Earlier today Amelia’s winners’ single appeared on the HMV website, five days before viewers are asked to part with cash in order to take part in the big final public vote.  I can state categorically that as of 18.19 on Tuesday 6 December the other finalists don’t have winners’ singles for sale at

Ten days ago the X Factor M&S advert also appeared with a newly edited version giving Amelia the starring role in place of Misha B.  So what is going on?

Accusations of fixing are rife, but if the outcome is fixed it would be difficult to keep under wraps.  My best guess is that this is a cynical publicity stunt aimed at boosting the volume of column inches and pixels devoted to Amelia Lily because  more interest=more votes and Cowell and his company think she’s the act that they can make the most money from.  Here are my reasons.

  1. The Amelia Lily PR machine has been in overdrive in recent days
  2. The title of the song doesn’t appear on the website – that’s a big reveal kept for the final
  3. The single was removed from the hmv site at around 18.30 – but only after the Mirror published the story and the leak started to trend on twitter

Fix or not the X Factor bosses seem to have as much regard for a fair and free vote as the Russian prime minister.

Politics, PR and Social Gambling

28 03 2010

You might have noticed the InVinceCable badge top right.  It’s a campaign to promote Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman as the best candidate to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I became involved following an e-mail discussion with Philip Sheldrake, someone who I’ve still never met, but knew of by reputation.  In fact he is mentioned in my book (right) as one of the experts in social web analytics.  Philip along with Mark Pinsent, an ex Edelman Director and communications expert who lives in Bordeaux, was corralling a collection of media, PR and digital people to launch and participate in the campaign.  It launches officially tomorrow although it has been ‘live’ for about three weeks.

It’s one of the most extraordinary things that I have ever been involved in.  Pretty much everything happens on-line even the meeting are held using the Skype conference facility.  Many of the people involved don’t know each other.  We have no funding yet we managed last week to attract the attention of the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones.

Then on Friday after an e-mail exchange a bunch of us decided to have a little bet on Vince Cable giving the next budget speech as Chancellor in the new parliament. We decided to give the social gamble a hashtag #crowdflutter and we invited others to join in.    Within a few hours the odds on Vince had fallen from 12-1 down to 8-1.  By early afternoon #invincecable caused William Hill to do the unthinkable they suspended betting. Later in the evening the following appeared on their press room “William Hill have slashed their odds about Vince Cable delivering the next Budget from 12/1 to 7/1 after a stream of internet bets for him to do so.  For reasons not immediately apparent to us we suddenly took a slew of internet bets for Mr Cable to be Chancellor when the next Budget is delivered.”

Next stop tomorrow night’s Ask the Chancellors debate on Channel Four at 8pm.

Google Debuts Super Bowl Ad on YouTube

8 02 2010

Companies and brands spend millions on creativity and airtime to secure the audience and all round PR value of a TV advertising spot during the Super Bowl.  In fact it was a tech company that created the craze for high concept ads in the breaks during transmission. In 1984 Apple introduced the Macintosh to the world during the Super Bowl with an ad directed by Ridley Scott.

No surprise then that Google chose this sporting event to launch its first ever TV ad, called Parisian Love.  Well, sort of.  In fact Google first launched the TV ad on YouTube, a service which it incidentally owns.   

A greater example of the blurring of boundaries between conventional and digital channels it would be hard to find.   This was one of a series of short videos that Google launched on YouTube a few months ago.  It was the positive reaction in that channel that prompted Google chiefs to air at during the big game. “It’s had such a positive reaction on YouTube, that we decided to share it with a wider audience” blogged Google CEO Eric Schmidt.  So in effect the decision to air this ad was at least in part, crowd sourced.

Whilst the concept is imaginative, a love story told with search terms, the execution is far from big budget, in fact it is a series of screen shots from the world’s favourite search engine.

Moreover this is a text book example of how offline media fuels online. Take a look at the YouTube stats. (to see the latest click here and then on the video page click on the Statistics & Data drop down menu below the clip.)  The video took  three months to gain a million views and then added another half a million overnight when the ad aired. 

Not many compared with the 100 million that view the Super Bowl on TV, but it is still early days for social media.

Derren Brown’s Lottery Slips

12 09 2009

It was the TV PR event of the year, accurately predicting the lottery on Wednesday night and then two days later, telling the nation how he’d done it.  Well he didn’t; either predict the result or tell us how it was done.

It was a split screen camera trick that has been very well explained here, though there have been some laughable theories in the national press even suggesting he might have had something up his sleeve.  The screen on the left hand side showing the balls was frozen during the result and on the right Derren and the TV were live.  A digital effect was used to make the fixed camera position appear to wobble as if it were a hand held camera (it is nigh on impossible to use split screen tricks without a fixed camera position).

An assistant put the balls in place whilst the screen was frozen.  The screen was unfrozen just before Darren walked across to reveal the numbers on the balls.  So how did he give the game away?

  • SILENCE IS GOLDEN – Derren says nothing during the draw.  That is because the studio mike was switched off to allow the accomplice to do the job without the mike picking up sounds of his movement.
  • VITAL SIGNS – Brown gives the signal for the screen to be frozen and unfrozen.  He drops his arm holding the card on which he will write the numbers to give the first sign for the left part of the screen to be frozen.  It is at 4:36 on the Yotube video of the stunt (below).  He uses the card again, this time switching hands (5:31) to give the signal for the screen to be unfrozen.  A few seconds earlier you can see him suppress a chuckle when his assistant moves out of the camera line, ready for the left side of the picture to go live with the balls now in place.
  • BALLS UP – It is actually a few seconds later that the screen unfreezes.  You can tell because the ball on the far left appears to move fractionally up on its own. This is because the assistant has placed it differently from the original blank ball.  You need a big screen high quality recording to see this happen but you can see that the ball is raised (far right now that we are looking at the numbers) from 5:56 on the Youtube clip.
  • AND FINALLY – You would think that if Derren knew the numbers they would be fixed in his head – he’d be unlikely to forget…unless of course he had only heard the result seconds before like the rest of us.  At the end of the recording (6:13) he struggles momentarily to remember the final ball, number 39.

Great PR stunt but there’s many a slip…

Politics and the Social Web

26 05 2009

In the words of Dan Rather the US veteran TV news anchor “Candidates do hate, genuinely hate, audience participation, because they like to control the environment,” When faced with the idea that voters will ask them questions via a YouTube video, he says, and “they get the shivers.”

 The long-term effects of using generated content and other aspects of the social web on our political systems will be fascinating to observe.  There is no walk of life where messages have been more tightly controlled than in the political arena.  As brands and corporate bodies begin to learn that they are operating in world where the customer talks back, politicians will come to learn that they need to do far more than pay lip service to their promises of listening to and respecting the opinions of their electorate.   

 The level of scrutiny that they will face will continue to increase and there will be greater availability of physical records in terms of audio visual recordings of what they do and what they say.  These records will be searchable and will exist for very long time making politicians ever more accountable for their promises.

Grade to Step Down at ITV

23 04 2009

The news this morning that the Executive Chairman of ITV is to step back from his post is further evidence of the changing role of television.

The former BBC Chairman and nephew of Lew Grade a founding father of ITV is part the generation that presided in the golden era of television.   The early sixties through to the early nineties provided the most watched TV shows of all time.   The very idea of a TV channel is under threat with the web providing higher quality and varied means of delivery.  Channels have to be brands to have a role in future models.

In the last year ITV has shed 1600 jobs and is a brand that needs to embrace change in the medium if it is to survive.   Whilst the channel struggles to deliver it’s programmes via the web others are innovating.  Last night the BBC’s webcast of the apprentice had a live vote and a chat room attached where viewers could share their opinions about which hopeful would be the next to get the finger from Mr Sugar.   The BBC has also just announceed that the hugely successful iPlayer will go to HD.

ITV still has great products and brand equity.  Its place on the  digital dial is still valuable but unless it finds a new way to embrace the web its time is ebbing away.

Web Star Susan Boyle

20 04 2009

Susan Boyle is racking up close to 100 million views on Youtube with versions of her singing performance on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.  It isn’t a true example of an internet meme because it was propelled by broadcast TV but it shares many of the characteristics.  

Youtube has played a key role in spread of great number of memes.   The ‘Rickrolling’ phenomenon is ‘the’ classic example.  Rick Astley was a UK popstar who had number one hits on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1980s (full disclosure…and showing off; I had the pleasure working with Rick Astley in a PR capacity at the start of his singing career).  His still catchy hit “Never Gonna Give You Up”  went to number one throughout Europe and in Australia in 1987 and hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States on March 12, 1988. 

Rickrolling was a prank which originated on the image board site 4chan in which a link to somewhere (such as a specific picture or news item) would instead lead to a video of Rick performing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up”.  The first instance of a Rickroll claimed to be a link to the first trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV but instead it took you to Rick.  The prank quickly spread across the web.  Because most of the links were to Youtube they quickly became aware of the phenomenon and on April 1st 2008 as an April Fool joke the web site Rickrolled everybody who clicked on one of their front page featured videos.  There are several Rickroll links on Youtube which have had a combined total of hits of over thirty million.

The Sex Pistols – God Save the Meme

6 04 2009

We think of memes or ‘viral’ as internet phenomena but whilst the internet is particularly suited to the spread of memes this kind of effect was observed long before the internet came into being. 

Fashion and music are areas where this is common and there are also crazes like the Rubik’s Cube the mechanical puzzle invented in 1974 but which exploded in popularity during a few months in early 1980 eventually selling over 300,000,000.

Whilst we can not promise to deliver memes as part of a PR campaign we should be able to recognise them and to facilitate their development.  Punk Rock which crash landed on youth culture in the seventies was memetic in its spread; starting as an underground idea but quickly crossing into the mainstream leaving a lasting stamp on fashion, music and design.  The punk explosion was also partly the result of Malcolm McLaren’s  innate understanding of the media and his ability to manage the message and provide press, radio and TV with strong themed stories surrounding the ‘Sex Pistols’.

The creation of memes is often beyond our control but when we recognise the opportunity PR people are well placed to propagate their spread.  (Adapted from the book ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ available  from Amazon and other book sellers).

We are all in Public

4 02 2009

The BBC has dropped former Carol Thatcher daughter of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher from “The One Show” .  The BBC took the action after she apparently used the word “golliwog” to describe a tennis player.    The comments were allegedly made during a conversation with fellow presenters after filming for the programme had ended.  Carol has appeared on the show as a regular roving reporter for the last three years.

Other presenters reported her off-air remark to senior staff, leading to her sacking by the BBC.  The identity of the tennis player has not been revealed but there are rumours that it might even be Andy Murray. 

The critical issue here is not just the debate as to whether the remarks were racist (intentionally or not) but that the words of public figures are now seldom ever ‘private’.  Carol Thatcher needs to understand that the social web means that they can be published by anyone, anywhere in an instant.   The BBC should recognise this too and reveal the name of the tennis player.  Then we will all be better placed to make a judgement.

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